Monday, 27 April 2009

Packed Up

That's it - I'm off! Credit card is ready for excess baggage charge at the airport and a bed is booked at the back clinic for therapy after lugging the camera around for two weeks...

Normal service will resume early May... I'll try a post or two from Krabi if I can get access to a computer.

I look forward to hearing all about the whiskered terns' in Northumberland etc when I get back!

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Gripping Gropper

Prior to the arrival and brief stay of the great white egret I had been treated to some fantastic views of "reeling" grasshopper warbler in the scrub that surrounds Arcot Pond.

This particular bird was "reeling" (singing - it's song is very much like the sound of a fishing reel being wound) out in the open, sitting on brambles.

As the bird sang it would flutter its wings and bob its' tail - cracking!

Today was perfect - warm, sunny and still. Four birds were heard along with two lesser whitethroat, one common whitethroat, two sedge warbler, blackcap, willow warbler and chiffchaff.

Summer has finally arrived in Northumberland.

After the GWE had departed we stuck around for a bit chat with several local birders who had arrived a few minutes late - luckily for us the drake garganey flew out of the reeds and onto the pool - only my second in Cramlington, so a great record and a magic end to an amazing morning at the pond!


Birding is a funny pastime.

I had spent a very enjoyable hour or so chatting to LMcD with Mark at Arcot Pond this morning. We had all been there hoping to catch up with an elusive drake garganey that had been reported a couple of times during the week.

As LMcD was leaving he advised us that the garganey would probably now show. (so we urged him to leave!)

Literally one minute later, while setting up the camera to try and photograph a vocal grasshopper warbler, I turned to face the pond. To my great surprise I was greeted by the sight of something that had not been there a few seconds earlier. Large skinny white bird on the north shore?...Great white egret?... GREAT WHITE EGRET... eh?!, GREAT WHITE EGRET!!!! (expletives omitted!)

Mark and I were elated to say the least... but where was LMcD??? Mark made a a quick run to the road, where luckily LMcD was found, tracking a common whitethroat we had seen earlier. Regretfully, the grey heron on the pool took great dislike to the egret,and after no more than nine minutes of chasing the egret around the north-east corner of the pool, the GWE to off and quickly gained height to head north. And that was it - gone... right place, right time. (The GWE was present from 09.51 - 10.00).

Dreams of getting closer for a photograph that was any better than the record shot presented here (500mm, huge crop) will have to remain exactly that. No loss, it was a fantastic bird for the home turf.

An amazing bird for Arcot and only the 9th for Northumberland, with the last record in 2003.

Friday, 24 April 2009

After a night like this

Finished work at 06.00, two weeks of holiday beckon. Result.

In my excitement I decided not to go to bed, it would be much more punk to wait for the Blur tickets to go on sale at 09.00... annoyingly when 09.00 arrived it transpired that tickets were only available from the venue, so my constant re-fresh of the web-page was worthless! Tickets were purchased for Massive Attack in September, but I guess it's a slim to non chance that the delightfully talented Liz Fraser (of Cocteau Twins fame, some of you may recall her vocals used in the MA "Teardrops" single a few years back) will join them.

In consolation I headed up to Druridge Bay this morning - regretfully avocetless, but little egret, marsh harrier and a couple of 1st summer med gulls were collected while I tootled about. Earlier still, a visit to Arcot Pond at 06.15 quickly provided grasshopper warbler reeling in the scrub.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Big Bill

Stork-billed kingfisher... monster!

Another trip down memory lane with this stunning halcyon. (I'm too tired to go out birding today... "nightshift hangover").

This big brute was photographed in the wonderful Singapore Botanic Gardens in August 2007, with collared and white-throated kingfisher also available for good measure.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Not so great

The countdown begins to my impending trip East, and Alans' comment at Dusty Bins has prompted me to delve into my photographic archive and dust (pardon the pun Alan) off an oldish image of a not so greater racket-tailed drongo.

This bird was photographed in Singapore in August 2007 - as you can see it's favoured habitat is not the best for photography, it is very dark in the jungle!

The camera was set to ISO 1250 with exposure at 125th second. The original image was very grainy, and as the 100-400mm lens was hand held the image is not as sharp as I'd have liked, even with image stabilisation.

This blast from the past has re-inforced my decision to have a play around with fill-flash, I certainly think it will enhance chances of getting better images on the trip.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Cold Colours?

Last photograph from todays' trip to Killingworth Lake; this jackdaw was patrolling the grass round the edge of the car park.

As with the recent photograph of the starling, the use of fill flash has assisted with the detail of the jackdaws' plumage.
It's not just a black corvid, check out the blue and purple gloss in the greater coverts, alula and secondaries. Very nice!


This handsome pied wagtail was patrolling the lakeside at Killingworth this afternoon.
Very dapper.

Bald as a


This confiding bird help alleviate some of the boredom between little gull appearances at Killingworth.

I guess it'll be happy with it's catch!

Coot can be quite tricky to photograph - black and white tones are sometimes hard to balance and detail can be lost. This image was taken in good light, and some fill in flash was used to help bring out colour in the eye and feather detail.

Gull in the sun...

Saturday was a cold grey day in the north-east of England, and birding was rather un-rewarding in the south-east of the county, indeed the highlight of the venture to Killingworth Lake and St Mary's with Mark was, unpredictably, chips and curry sauce.

Sunday fared better - the sun was out. Joy.

After a wake up session at the gym I headed back to Killingworth Lake for another hour or two with the little gull.
As with previous visits this bird was flighty and erratic - disappearing for periods of time then whizzing past on the foray for insects over the pond surface.
The sunlight really helped enhance the plumage of the gull - the underparts are a delightful pinkish wash.
Photographs today were taken using a 100-400mm IS lens - it prove to be ideal in the bright sunshine, and nice and light to hand hold.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Round Two

Another grey day, another trip to Killingworth Lake. Still not getting the ideal little gull image, here's the best of a bad bunch. Plenty mute swan though!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Time to Kill(ingworth)

The past couple of mornings have seen me head down to Killingworth Lake for a bit of camera practice with the 400mm f4 DO and the 580 flash. Wednesday saw thick mist and three common tern at the lake, while this morning, although grey skies predominated, was a bit better but tern-less. In their absence was the occasional visit from a splendid little gull which managed to come into photographable range only once - here's a sample image, I think there will be better but have not had time to sort through the folder yet...

Sand martins were also present and prove to be very difficult to capture in the optimum pose.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Starling (in a flash!)

With a trip to Thailand immanent and a realisation that photography may be difficult in dark heavily forested areas I sought advice and help from several other north-east birders/photographers this weekend about the use of flash for bird photography.

I've never used a flash before but am well aware that many of the stunning shots that are featured on sites such as Artie Morris's "birds as art" or Glen Bartleys' website use flash. Indeed, I've witnessed such photography in Central Park during spring migration. Yet it never seems to be be used in the UK. Is it "taboo"?

Colin Bradshaw came to my rescue with an offer to lend a Canon 580 EX flashgun (an a few other bits and bobs, including a "better beamer" flash extender for use with lens over 300mm) - so it's been a couple of days garden birding for me - practicing set up and use of the flash. I've got to say it's not straight forward (for me at least), but with a bit of determination the results are starting to appear. The image of the starling was taken this morning in flat grey light - isn't he pretty? The flash certainly helped bring out the colours - and the bird was not bothered in the slightest.

Technical details for photograph: Canon 1DIII camera body, Canon 500mm IS F4 lens, Canon 580EX Flash Gun (mounted direst to camera body), Better Beamer flash extender. ISO250, Flash compensation -1 stop, exposure compensation -1/3 stop, exposure 1/800 sec.
There is no doubt in my mind that there is a "time and place" for the use of a flash... but it's certainly opened my eyes to the enhancement that can be made to an image.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Birding C.D.EC

Cresswell Pond continued (for me anyhow) to be yellow wagtail-less this morning, the six (inc one "blue-headed") had managed to disappear prior to my arrival.
A single white wagtail was compensatory. The pond held one whooper swan.
Druridge fared better with little egret feeding actively, little ringed plover, garganey (two), willow warbler and three swallow through.
While I was at Druridge news broke of a red kite over my home town,with STH having it over his house and Crammy Birder scoring at Arcot. A species likely to increase in regularity, so I'll keep cool over this record.
East Chevington was fairly quiet, although the wandering feral bar-headed goose did drop in with two grey-lags to brighten up what was relatively a dull and cool April morning.

Striking bird even if plastic!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

PM birding

Tuesday 7th April saw me heading up the coast late afternoon. First stop was at Lynemouth where Tim Cleeves and ST were already watching the very smart water pipit, feeding on the western shore of the flash. It's been a good run of late for water pipit in Northumberland, an it's nice to see some in their summer finery. The northern shores of Cresswell Pond were yellow wagtail-less, nor were there any northern wheatear.

From the Budge screen at Druridge Pool the drake garganey was on show, although the duck was not to be seen. A single black-tailed godwit was feeding in the shallows among redshank and lapwing. I didn't have time the venture to the main pool or hides, which probably is the reason why the little egret was not seen, nor Brians' little ringed plover - hopefully I'll catch up with another soon.

Later in the evening I spent an hour at West Hartford; Two SEO were on show along with one common buzzard. The SEO and CB had a bit of interaction, with the CB coming out on top - both owls drifted east, returning only as dusk turned to dark. No sign of the barn owl, I may have left to early, but there was a steady stream of LBBGs/HGs dropping into the pool for refreshment prior to roost.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Afternoon in the Bay

Another bright and sunny day saw me head up to Druridge Bay for the afternoon.

All sites were generally quiet, but a little egret on the budge fields at Druridge was nice. Still a relatively uncommon species in Northumberland, surely will end up as a breeding bird soon.

East Chevington held a single black-tailed godwit and drake pintail, while at Hauxley the wandering bar-headed goose was still present. I even managed to have a classic "in binocular view at the same time moment" - bar-headed goose and a black rabbit.

Much better than my mate Mark, who had to once make do with issy wheatear, red-throated pipit and gannet in the same view on Scilly. Quality wildlife viewing in Northumberland eh?

The redshank photograph was taken at Hauxley from the wader hide. A couple of snipe almost came into camera range, but promptly turned around when one of the hide shutters fell off its latch, making an almighty crash!

The only summer migrant today were chiffchaff - two - three at Hauxley. Thought I might bump into a wheatear or two, but alas, no.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

House birding

No specific birding today, but an early house martin over Horton Drive in Cramlington was a nice bonus. Blackbirds continue to collect nest material from the garden and our woodpigeons seem intent of removing every last peice of bird food put out on the bird table. Might get out on Sunday...

Friday, 3 April 2009

WH Dusk

Dusk visit to West Hartford provided brief glimpse of one SEO, harrassed by lesser black-backed gulls. Two pair of shelduck this evening, the seemingly resident pair chasing the other away before they could land on the pool.

New blog link added to "other voices" section - Farne Islands - bound to be gripping reading during the migration periods!

Thursday, 2 April 2009

30 minutes

Half an hour at West Hartford produced the following species this evening:

1 SEO hunting fields to south, east and west of the pool,
2 shelduck - I expect that these will breed in the area again this year,
5 sand martin (flying south - do they know something we don't?),
coal tit,
blue tit,
16+ teal,
grey heron,
carrion crow,
reed bunting,
2 snipe (put up by the owl).

With a heavy sea fret moving in from the east, it was actually quite cold this evening!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Avocet Anniversary

It's five years to the day that I found an avocet at West Hartford on 1st April 2004 - a great "inland" county record and probably my favourite bird on my WH list.
I found this bird on what was scheduled to be a quick visit after work, in fact I almost talked myself out of a visit, as a cup of coffee was high on my list of after work requirements - just shows how anything can turn up at anytime, and how a well watched patch can reap rewards after many hours survey.
The avocet was frequently harassed by the gulls on the pool. A pre-work check of the pool the next morning was avocet-less. I'd like to say that the photograph was taken at WH, but it wasn't...
WH has provided many hours of fruitless observation. There have also been some goodies - green-winged teal, marsh harrier, "inland" knot, "inland" bar-tailed godwit, med gull spring to mind, with species that are taken for granted at other pools - eg little grebe (once), tufted duck (scarce), goosander and cormorant (one "on pool" record each). In fact passage waders such as LRP, green sand, wood sand and black-tailed godwit are more regular!